Relational Learning


3 February, 2023


The Path to Achieving our Mission

A long-running survey of parents of independent school students has consistently found the number one outcome parents want from their school is… the preparation of the students to fulfil their potential in later life. This finding aligns beautifully with our purpose, our Mission, to provide an exceptional holistic education that enables every student to maximise their potential.

Given the College’s purpose is very clear, it is imperative that there is a clearly defined process by which to fulfil that raison d’etre; that is, the how. It is common sense that students who are known and feel ‘safe and supported’ are more likely to learn more effectively and perform better academically. The teaching I see in an Early Learning class looks different from that  which I see in a TCE class. However, the common thread across all age groups, learning environments and activities is the rapport or relationship, that exists between teacher and taught –that is the foundation of the how.

This is nothing new, as research in this area has been available for over 40 years:

  • In 1983 Salzberger said, “the quality of the relationship deeply influences the hopefulness required for students to remain curious and open to new experiences, and the capacity to see connections and discover meanings”.
  • In his book Visible Learning, John Hattie concluded that… “It is teachers who have created positive teacher-student relationships who are more likely to have above average effects on student achievement.”

Relationships are, quite simply, a keystone of learning.

Additionally, general Health and Wellbeing is directly linked to good lifestyle habits, such as sleep, diet, exercise, hobbies and positive relationships. A Harvard University study that started in 1938, and is still going, found that the common element in all participants who reported having a successful life, was the presence of quality relationships.

The study showed that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community. Quite simply, good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

In terms of learning, research in 1994 and again in 2018 and 2022 found that there is strong neuroscientific evidence that ‘emotion and cognition are complexly interwoven in the architecture of the learning brain and hence, learning and wellbeing are tightly integrated’. (Damasio, 1994, 2018; Immordino-Yang 2018; Kim & Sankey, 2022) Again, logic strongly supports the volume and variety of relationships formed through being involved in the full array of College life, in and beyond the classroom, creates a greater sense of belonging and purpose for each individual. Additionally,  this broad engagement provides a web of support through the many relationships our students form. Students are more emotionally grounded and are more effective learners as a result of their increased sense of belonging.

Therefore, the achievement of our Mission, to provide an exceptional holistic education… is predicated on us knowing our students, so as to positively influence them in their development of knowledge, skills, morals and those character traits we call ‘Learner Attributes’. 10 character traits that we believe are at the foundation of our students’ ability to learn to their fullest  capacity, to be their best selves… to maximise their potential.

In our local context, support of these findings comes in the form of a key outcome of the Chapel Survey of all Penquite students in 2021, that being, our young people value relationships above all else. We’ve seen on numerous occasions our wonderful young people show us what genuine inclusivity, compassion and respect are, and what taking responsibility for making our world a better place is all about; and we support them wholeheartedly in those endeavours.

It is said that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; thankfully we know the seeds of those trees have been planted. We are all fortunate, on a daily basis, to see glimpses of our students’ potential, but more than likely it’ll be some years into the future before we get a full picture of what being their best and fulfilling their potential is, for each and every one. As I  said to our graduating Year 12 students at Celebration at the end of 2022, “you have received that education, as is your right, your responsibility now is to put that education to the very
best use you can and see what you can do with it”.

This logic, research findings and extensive educational experience is why the College has adopted the term, Relational Learning, to capture our overall philosophy. The term Relational
Learning aligns with that which you have heard me say many times, ‘students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. It is via Relational Learning that we will most effectively achieve our Mission.

Andy Müller